Guidance for line managers
When a concern is raised
When a concern is raised, whether formally under the policy or not, it is important that the line manager listens carefully and avoids pre-judging the issue. If the manager does not feel able to do this, they should encourage the member of staff to raise the concern with the Designated Officer.
The first issue to be decided is whether it should be treated as a whistleblowing concern. When considering this it is helpful to bear in mind the following:
- Whistleblowing presupposes there is an outside agency (eg a regulator, the Police or media) which would have a legitimate interest to investigate the underlying public interest concern.
- A whistleblower is best viewed as a witness who is putting the organisation on notice of the risk rather than as a complainant seeking to dictate to the organisation how it responds.
- Whistleblowing is an aspect of good citizenship in that the member of staff is speaking up for and on behalf of people who are at risk but are usually unaware of it and so unable to do anything to protect themselves.
Managers should assess:
- how serious and urgent the risk is
- whether the concern can best be dealt with under the Whistleblowing policy or some other procedure
- whether the assistance of or referral to senior managers or a specialist function will be desirable or necessary
If the information can be treated as a tip-off and simply followed up during a routine audit, or if it could just as easily have come from a customer complaint, then there will often be practical advantages for all concerned if the organisation addresses the matter on that basis and does not build its response around the member of staff’s evidence. If this appears a realistic way forward, the member of staff should be informed.
Where a member of staff formally invokes the policy and raises a concern with their line manager or at a higher level, it is helpful if the line manager or Designated Officer establishes:
- if the member of staff is anxious about reprisals
- when the concern first arose and, where relevant, what is prompting the decision to speak up now?
- whether the information is first hand or hearsay?
- where the approach is to a Designated Officer, whether the member of staff has raised the concern with their line manager? and
- if not, why? and
- if so, with what effect?
- whether confidentiality is sought
- whether and when the member of staff wants feedback and
- if there is anything else relevant the member of staff should mention
These issues are indicative of the approach that may be taken and should not be seen as a definitive list.
Line Managers notified of a concern:
- have a responsibility to ensure that concerns raised are taken seriously
- should, where appropriate, investigate properly and make an objective assessment of the concern
- should keep the member of staff advised of progress
- have a responsibility to ensure that the action necessary to resolve the concern is taken
Finally, the manager might wish to write to the member of staff summarising the concern, noting whether it was raised openly or confidentially, and stating what steps will be taken. Such a note, which can usefully also serve as a record, may state when feedback can be expected. It can also ask the member of staff to make contact if they have any questions or further information relating to the concern.
Addressing a concern
Where the issue is sensitive, the number of people involved in addressing any whistleblowing concern should be kept to a minimum and, where the implications are potentially serious or far-reaching, the independence and oversight of the investigation should also be considered. It is also important that, where confidentiality has been promised, it should be respected.
Where the concern needs to be referred on to a more specialist area such as the Audit Advisory Division or health and safety, this should be done without undue delay. Additionally the member of staff should be asked whether they want to be in direct contact with the function themselves, or would rather any communication was done through the Designated Officer.
Where specific enquiries need to be made in the area where the whistleblower works, the whistleblower should be forewarned so they are prepared to answer questions along with everyone else.
Note: Keeping the whistleblower updated as to progress, and ensuring they can contact the Designated Officer if they have any questions, will help manage expectations, pre-empt problems and ensure the process works well.
When considering how to address the concern, the organisation and those dealing with it can sensibly assume that they will be asked to explain their actions, be it to a regulator, court, supervisory body or the media. The organisation should also consider whether it should itself inform an external body (e.g. a regulator, a supervisory department or the police) once a serious issue has been identified, either to enlist their assistance or to reassure them and members of staff that the matter is being addressed properly.
As many whistleblowing concerns will be raised with and addressed by line managers in the course of day-to-day business, care should be taken not to impose a disproportionate scheme for recording all whistleblowing concerns. It should be sufficient for managers to record and pass on a summary of the concern where a member of staff has formally invoked the Whistleblowing policy, or where the manager thinks the concern of such significance that it is sensible that a central record is kept. Those who receive a concern outside of line management should keep records and these should also be logged centrally.
Such records may include:
- the date, the Department/Board of Office, the risk(s) involved and whether they are ongoing
- a summary of the concern and its background, the response proposed (including whether it is to be referred on or up) and any action taken
- whether confidentiality was requested/explained/promised
- whether the concern was raised with line management
- whether feedback was given and any response from the member of staff and
- any general observations
The organisation should ensure that the compilation and maintenance of these records complies with its data protection procedures.
Where the member of staff is concerned that they might suffer reprisals, they should be encouraged to come back to the Designated Officer or their original point of contact at the earliest opportunity. Sometimes a reassuring word is all that is needed to calm an overly anxious member of staff, but at other times it will be necessary to liaise with OHR on whether some swift reminder of the organisation’s policy or some other action is appropriate or necessary.